Chiefs damage done on day one

8 September 2016

The reputational damage to the Chiefs was cemented at the outset of the scandal, while the lack of a clear message throughout has compounded the problem.

The first and fateful error was the lack of forethought or preparation by the Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman and Gallagher spokesperson (major sponsor) Margaret Comer when they first fronted media.

Flexman said: “You have got to remember this is one person's accusation (the stripper) and her standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach." 

Then Comer said: "If a woman takes her clothes off and walks around in a group of men, what are we supposed to do if one of them touches her?"

Both may say those comments were taken out of context. The problem is that they still said them and media will only use snippets of information they take from recorded interviews. These comments make classic sound bites and were always going to be the focus of news stories.

What should they have done?

They should have come up with some clear and simple messages and deflected back to them. These should have included empathy for the stripper and a commitment to get to the bottom of it and punish those responsible.

There was clearly no such message. Or if there was, neither spokesperson had the media training skills to focus on that alone. In a nutshell, if you don’t want it used, don’t say it.

The reason I say the damage was cemented at this point is that people form their views early in examples like this. If you say the right thing early, people will take that into account when deciding where they stand. But if you make a mess of your early communication, you then have the harder job of trying to change opinions.

What other mistakes have been made?

Even now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear message. On one hand they say the players are being reprimanded, while on the other that they didn’t do anything wrong.

The lack of an apology from the guilty players to the stripper is also a mistake. This must irritate those who weren’t involved as they are all now seen as guilty. The other thing being missed here is that people are more concerned how people respond to a mistake than the fact they made it in the first place.

If the instigators fronted up early, apologised and did something like donate to Women’s Refuse, the reputation of themselves, the other players, and the Chiefs Franchise would not have been tarnished anywhere near as badly as it has.

This is a classic example of why business and sports organisations need media trained spokespeople and crisis communication plans that are ready to spring into action.

If you want to improve your media interview skills, download my free White Paper “The 5 Steps to pain-free media interviews” at this link.



Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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